Location: Gary, Indiana
Website: National Park
General Description: After a long campaign that began in 1899, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was authorized by Congress in 1966. Henry Cowles, a botanist from University of Chicago, brought international attention to the intricate ecosystems that make up the dunes and the struggle with continued industrialization of the area. In 1916 the area was booming with steel mills and power plants that threatened the very existence of the dunes. For example, Hoosier Slide, the largest sand dune at 200 feet was completely hauled away in boxcars by the Ball Brothers of Muncie, Indiana, manufacturers of glass fruit jars, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company of Kokomo. Delayed by the first World War, then the Depression and again by the second World War, the efforts to save the dunes did not waver. Finally in 1963, President Kennedy outlined a program that would link a new National Lakeshore to a new Indiana Port thus combining both conservation and industry. This Kennedy Compromise was endorsed by Illinois Senator Paul Douglas who made sure that the Burns Waterway Port could only come about by the simultaneous creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. in 1966 Indiana Dunes became a reality with legislation to purchase 8,330 acres of land and water. Four successive appropriations has increased the size of lakeshore to over 15,000 acres. Since its purchase the National Park Service has continued efforts to restore and preserve the diverse ecosystems that make up the dunes. Today visitors can see the results of these efforts at various stages of success. Ecosystems include 15 miles of lakeshore, dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers, and forests. There are numerous historical sites, trails for hiking, biking, and horses, and access to some of the best beaches on Lake Michigan.
1) The Visitor Center is located midway along the shoreline, just south of the original Indiana Dunes State Park. It is a small visitor center with a few exhibits about the different ecosystems and examples of the ecological efforts in the park.
2) There are numerous trails of varying lengths and difficulties that would keep visitors occupied for many days. We spent just two days in the park and attempted to visit a variety of ecosystems. Near the Visitor Center there is the Great Marsh Trail. This is a 1 mile loop trail that provides access to the largest interdunal wetland in the Lake Michigan watershed. The marsh was drained in the early 1900s for residential and agricultural use with restoration beginning in 1998.
3) Dune Ridge Trail is a 0.75 mile loop trail that winds it way up to the top of one of the largest sand dunes. You get great views of the extensive wetlands and forests to the south and Lake Michigan to the north. At least, this is what the brochure states, since in actuality you can’t see the lake during the summer through all the black oak leaves.
4) The Little Calumet River Trail is a 3 mile loop trail that travels through the forest environment along the Little Calumet River and circles through the Mnoke Prairie where there are ongoing efforts to restore a small (120 acre) long grass prairie.
5) There are also historical sites that can be visited in the park. The Bailly/Chellberg trail is a 1 mile loop trail through the forests to both the Chellberg farm, a Scandinavian farm restored to its early 1900s condition, and the Bailly homestead. This is the location of the pioneer trading post established in 1822 by fur trade pioneer Joseph Bailly, who was one of the first to settle permanently in the area.
6) The Century of Progress Architectural District is located in the east portion of the park. The district consists of a total of five buildings, all from the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition during the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Today the homes are leased properties, who are responsible for maintaining the properties according to their original construction methods and materials. It was interesting that the only one of the five homes to handle the harsh conditions along Lake Michigan was the home built entirely of Louisiana cypress.